My novella, A Spell of Passion or Fear, isn’t quite traditional steampunk. Rather than an alternative Victorian era, it’s set in a world influenced by Ancient Greece, which, from the mythical Daedalus to the historical Archytus of Tarentum, had its share of creative inventors and mechanical wizardry. Technology has impacted both my heroes–Ariston, a former warrior in the service of his city-state, finds himself replaced by more reliable automatons, and Phaleas is a mechanic and servant to these new Guardians. How they respond to their changing world brings them together, but also puts them and their relationship at risk.
In all honesty my favorite steampunk-related object is a gift I bought my sister–a opened-up watch with brilliant gem bearings. It was supposed to be turned into jewelry, but the jeweler had barely started work; it was beautiful just as it was and I demanded to buy it. I love colorful things, shiny things, and things that go whirrrl and make magic.
Watching Smaurai 7, an anime version of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai movie. So from the beginning I’ve looked at steampunk exploring many different eras and cultures.
None currently slated for publication, but I’m definitely writing something to submit to Dreamspinner’s new steampunk anthology–part of the backstory of A Spell of Passion or Fear’s universe. There a lot more to explore in that setting; I expect I’ll be returning to it again and again.
I love all of them! But I surprised myself with how much sympathy I felt in the end for Eudaimon, the automaton Guardian that Phaleas serves.
Figuring out the logic of it. When, if ever, did this world diverge from real-world history? Or is it a future dystopia where much has been lost or reinvented? What sort of technology is available? Do they have telegraph? Modern medicine? Freight trains?
For me, finding historical inspiration. Ancient Greece, medieval Japan, Victorian England, Europe in the World Wars, the Atlantic in the Age of Sail (which was also, hmm, the heyday of Neoclassicism, bringing us back to Greece)–there’s always a situation you can make more interesting by adding a robot or a flying machine.
Play with fantasy while pretending to be scientific. It’s also a way to encounter the technology that was cutting-edge, with huge potential, in the past. Science fiction as a whole is highly future-oriented, while fantasy fiction is not so interested in the rigorous detail/plausibility. Historical fiction is tied down by what actually happened. Mix all three together, and it’s almost enough fun that I’d say you could forget the romance–except when it comes to reading and writing there’s no such thing as too much fun!
You either have to know something about engineering, or be able to disguise what you don’t know. This can be difficult as I think the steampunk readership is very into understanding how things work and fit together. But that also opens up a lot of room for worldbuilding and exploration of ideas, situations, and characters.
For me it’s largely imagination, but a lot of the time that’s because I get story ideas from fun reading I hadn’t considered “research” at the time. You do need to think about how to blend in what you know and either figure out or cloak what you don’t know. Plus lots of notes in the margins to “look this up later!”